Thinking about going freelance? Here are five steps to take before you apply for your first gig to increase your chances of landing the job and getting valuable experience.
We Live in a Gig Economy
By 2020, roughly 40 percent of the United States workforce will consist of freelancers or independent contractors. That prediction comes from “The Intuit 2020 Report: Twenty Trends That Will Shape The Next Decade.” It paints a bold new future where the very nature of the workplace will shift. With full-time jobs increasingly hard to find in many fields—and with freelance work accessible thanks to the internet, the cloud, and innovative startups such as Uber—the idea of what constitutes a “job” is swiftly changing.
These days, it is possible to make a living without ever going to an office, meeting your boss face to face, or even leaving the comfort of your home. If you are thinking about diving into the freelance world, it’s essential to lay sufficient groundwork and do your due diligence just like you would for any full-time job. Here are five steps to take before you apply for a new freelance gig.
Build Up an Online Reputation
Many of today’s gigs are entirely internet-based. From blogging to graphic design to web development and beyond, numerous freelance jobs are open to anyone with qualifications and an internet connection. Just because these gigs are becoming more common doesn’t mean they are easy to win. Think about that Intuit figure: within a few years, more than a third of the working population will be embracing the gig economy. If you’re considering freelance work, there are probably thousands of people with your skillset doing the same thing.
Simply put, you are going to face some stiff competition in finding exciting gigs that pay reasonably well. Things will get easier over time as you build a resume of jobs and a portfolio of work samples. You will have a lot less trouble if you build up an online reputation for yourself. If you are asking someone to pay you to write blogs, it helps if you have an established blog of your own with decent viewership statistics. Of course, a robust social media platform will also help. Whatever you can do to establish a convincing online brand for yourself will improve your odds of getting a great gig.
Create a List of Verifiable References
Your online reputation and your work portfolio are probably the top two things most clients will look for when deciding whether to hire you for a gig. Even if you feel confident in both of those areas, you don’t want to send in an application or cover letter until you’ve assembled a list of verifiable references.
Employers embracing the gig economy often struggle to find people who are reliable, driven, and consistent. The fact is many people entering the online-based freelance market try it for a few weeks, decide it’s too hard or too monotonous, and then renege. This kind of scenario leaves employers scrambling to meet deadlines and satisfy their clients.
As you delve further into the gig economy, it’s good to build a list of brands and clients who can speak to your ability to hit deadlines, keep up with workload requirements, and deliver quality work with limited guidance or management. References from managers and bosses at old full-time jobs are fine, but the best referrals come from former freelance and gig roles, simply because they are the most applicable.
Make Sure Your Expectations Align with Reality
Before you apply for a freelance opportunity, do some homework. Try to figure out what the workload is, how the deadline structure works, and how much the assignments pay. You need to determine if the gig matches your expectations. You may not have the flexibility to do as much work as the client needs, or the starting pay rate might fall below your standards. Knowing these things up front will save all involved parties from wasting their time.
Ask yourself whether you are excited about the work. You will deliver higher quality work (and enjoy yourself more) if you are engaged in what you are doing. As with any other job, your gig is probably going to involve some tasks or elements you don’t love. Ultimately, you should strive to find something that is still interesting to you.
Finally, consider whether the structure of the gig economy is right for you. As Inc.com has noted, some people revel in the perks freelancing provides, like getting to be their own boss or making their own schedules. Other people quickly start feeling anxious about “hustling for the next check” or finding new gigs to fill the queue. If you think you might fall on the latter end of the spectrum, then you might be better off looking for a more traditional full-time job.
Research the Client or Company
As the gig economy grows, so does the number of illegitimate companies working in this space. There are clients and companies looking to take advantage of freelancers—whether by underpaying for work or not paying at all. Before you apply for a gig, do some research on the company in question. Do they have a website? Does it look professional? Are there negative reviews from former freelancers or employers?
The good thing is bad news tends to travel quickly online. As such, you should be able to figure out with relative ease whether the client you are looking at is a legitimate enterprise or an unethical scam.
Understand the Hiring Standards
With a full-time job, there are typically high standards in place for hiring. Employers check references, conduct background checks (including criminal history checks and resume verifications), ask for work samples, and use skill tests. Job seekers often assume freelance gigs have lower standards—and take that assumption as an excuse to lie about criminal histories or stretch the truth on their resumes.
As a rule, honesty is always the best policy. As the gig economy grows, more clients and companies are holding their freelancers to the same standards as their full-time employees. These businesses understand independent contractors are still representatives of their brands. Maintaining exacting standards for hiring is the most efficient way to put your best foot forward and retain or develop a compelling reputation. Keep this factor in mind next time you are looking for a freelance gig, as it may impact the screening process and overall expectations.
The gig economy has changed the way we think about work, employment, jobs, and livelihood. If you are thinking about making the switch from full-time to freelance, keep the five steps above in mind. Taking these steps with every freelance role you apply for will maximize your chances of finding a gig you love with a pay rate that meets your needs.
Michael Klazema is the Chief Marketing Technologist at VODW. He has over two decades of experience in digital consulting, online product management, HR, employee screening, and technology innovation.